Crooks craving copper mugs at new King Street bar

John Adamson has been unable to stem the flow of these copper mugs from his restaurant/bar. Buy this photo

John Adamson, a downtown Charleston restaurant owner, dared to be unique in hopes of capturing the attention of patrons who yearned for something a little offbeat.

Strange thefts

In 2012, there were 21 thefts at Charleston restaurants and bars. Most of them included alcoholic beverages, bottles and cash. Here are a few stranger ones among the list:

Keg dolly stolen from Closed for Business

Bathroom sign stolen from Henry’s

A safe taken from Vendue Hotel/Rooftop Bar

Doritos Grab Bag from Zappo’s Pizza

Source: Charleston Police Department

But he soon learned that his approach came with a cost.

Inside The Rarebit, his restaurant/bar on Upper King Street, the room is full of fun finds. Everything from stack-stone wall accents and Danish-modern chairs and stools are meant to give the place a certain feel. It’s modeled after a typical bar inside a dog track in the 1960s, a look Adamson described as “masculine,” “comfortable,” even “a little seedy.”

The décor portrays that design, right down to the barware, from mint-julep glasses and vintage glassware to the pièce de résistance, a copper mug that holds the bar’s most popular drink, “The Russian Mule.”

While the drink itself has become a popular item, with homemade ginger beer as one its key ingredients, it is the mug that has caught the attention of bar-goers around town. He knows this because, one by one, they’ve gone missing.

“We didn’t really do an inventory until after the first week and realized after one week we had lost eight mugs,” he said.

Now, after about a month in business, they’re down to about 20 mugs. At $20 apiece, the loss is leading Adamson to raise the price of the drink, which currently is sold for $7.

“I’m happy with seven, but I’m being forced to punish all the other people by raising the price to pay for the jerks that want to steal stuff,” he said.

The restaurant owner has been in a tough spot because he said he can’t even profile those stealing the mugs. Last weekend, a woman in her mid-20s was stashing it away. “This is unbelievable,” he said.

Adamson said he has thought of everything to ward off the copper crooks, from charging money for the cups to serving the mugs only to those sitting at the bar. For a time he also put wording in the menu kindly asking patrons not to steal the mugs.

The problem is that Adamson doesn’t want to get into the business of selling the mugs, and he hates the negativity he says a sign or line on the menu asking not to steal brings into the bar. It’s left him frustrated. “You can’t offer something nice at a good price. People won’t allow it.”

Adamson, who has owned five restaurants, is no stranger to thefts in the restaurant business. It comes with the territory, he said, but this is getting a little ridiculous. “It’s infuriating,” he said.

Adamson is not alone. Joe Raya, one of the owners of the Gin Joint on East Bay Street, has felt the sting of similar thefts at his bar. He and his wife MariElena wanted to re-create an experience they said couldn’t be found in Charleston, serving pre-prohibition-style cocktails.

They hoped to do it with style, serving drinks in julep glasses and copper mugs.

But six of those mugs have been stolen in the past three months. Another hot commodity is their stainless steel straws, which the bar was losing to thefts on average about 100 a month. Raya and his wife knew they had to do something about it.

“If we have an item we think is desirable, we have a resale wall that we set up and put those items on the wall and offer them for sale. I think once people see something is for sale, they’re less inclined to steal it. That’s helped us out a lot,” Raya said.

Several restaurants and bars downtown have seen their share of unusual thefts. In 2009, a man was arrested for stealing a 6-by-8 foot painting from a wall inside Hank’s Seafood Restaurant on Haynes Street.

Despite the thefts at Rarebit, Adamson plans to keep serving the signature drink in a copper mug. “There’s no way to argue that a drink doesn’t taste better out of the proper glassware,” Adamson said. “It’s about giving people an experience that they can’t find elsewhere.”

So for now, Adamson won’t give up on his idea. Instead, he’s trying to take it with a grain of salt, or ginger. “I’m just going to continue to do what I do and just hope maybe once everyone in Charleston has a mug in their house that it will slow down,” he joked.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.

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